The Inheritors

The New Scientist reports that Neanderthals may have been driven to extinction by modern humans throwing rocks and spears. Apparently the fossilised shoulder bones of ancient humans show similar signs of wear as those of modern-day baseball players. Who’d have thought it? Well, William Golding actually, in his novel The Inheritors (1955) which is told from the point of view of a Neanderthal. Golding describes Lok, the Neanderthal, being attacked with a poisoned arrow and having no way of understanding what is happening to him. Golding’s book is notable in particular for the way it maintains Lok’s worldview, limited by his language. Lok does not understand causality, for instance:

Suddenly Lok could understand that the man was holding the stick out to him but neither he nor Lok could reach across the river. He would have laughed if it were not for the echo of the screaming in his head. The stick began to grow shorter at both ends. Then it shot out to its full length again.

The dead tree by Lok’s ear acquired a voice.

“Clop!”

His ears twitched and he turned to the tree. By his face there had grown a twig: a twig that smelt of other, and of goose, and of the bitter berries that Lok’s stomach told him he must not eat.

Below is a clipping from the New Scientist article, the implication of which is, as Golding speculates, that the Neanderthals did not learn to throw objects themselves:

Studies of elite handball and baseball players suggest that frequent overhand throwing from an early age permanently rotates the shoulder-end of the humerus toward an athlete’s back, compared to people who haven’t spent much time hurling.

This bone rotation only occurs in the throwing arm, so a difference between the right and left arm in fossils could be a sign of projectile use, Rhodes says.

To find out, she and Churchill measured humerus bones from Neanderthals and ancient and modern humans.

They found some evidence for projectile use in male European humans from around 26,000 to 28,000 years ago – the middle Palaeolithic period – who would have been contemporaries of Neanderthals. Their right humerus bones were generally more rotated toward their back than their left, while Rhodes’s team noticed no such asymmetry in Neanderthal arms.

Here’s the link to the article again.

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